A Guide to Over-the-Counter Laxatives


Many laxatives are available without a prescription, and people often overuse them. Most people who use laxatives do not need them, and long-term use of laxatives can have serious health consequences, such as altered levels of metabolites (salt) in the body, dehydration, kidney damage, and even death.

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How to get rid of constipation

Instead of buying an over-the-counter laxative to treat recurrent constipation, you should first try a high-fiber diet, increase your fluid intake and exercise regularly, and practice good bathroom hygiene.

In particular, you should use the bathroom when you feel the need and refrain from "holding back." If these measures don't work, you should see your doctor to discuss laxative use, especially if you plan to take laxatives for more than a day or two.

Types of laxatives

Over-the-counter laxatives have four main mechanisms of action:

It should be noted that some of these laxatives work through a combination of these mechanisms.

Bulking laxatives

As the name suggests, bulk-forming laxatives add bulk to your stool. These laxatives are made up of indigestible particles (colloids) that absorb water. Once bulk laxatives have absorbed water, they cause the intestine to swell and move through wave-shaped muscle contractions (peristalsis).

Laxatives in large quantities are usually made from plant fibers such as methylcellulose. When bacteria that live in the intestines digest these plant fibers, they can cause gas and bloating.

Over-the-counter laxative brands include:

  • FiberCon (polycarbophil)
  • Citrucel (methylcellulose)
  • Metamucil (psyllium)
  • Consil (psyllium)
  • Benefiber (wheat dextrin)

Chair softeners

Stool softeners or stool surfactants work by allowing water and fat to saturate the stool and thus soften it. Stool softeners can be taken orally or rectally (as suppositories or enemas).

Over-the-counter stool softeners include:

  • Kolas (docuzat)
  • Surfak (docuzat)
  • Phillips (Dokuzat) Liquid Stool Softening Gels
  • Mineral oil
  • Pedia-Lax (glycerin suppository)

It should be noted that mineral oil is commonly used to lubricate stools in children and adults with disabilities. For mineral oil to taste good, it must be mixed with juice.

Also, docusate and glycerin suppositories are usually prescribed in a hospital or hospital setting to prevent constipation.

Studies have shown that long-term use of stool softeners can lead to deficiencies in vitamins A, D, E, and K. (fat-soluble).

Stimulant laxatives

It is not entirely clear exactly how stimulant laxatives or laxatives work. We know that they directly stimulate the intestinal nervous system and also induce the secretion of electrolytes and fluids in the colon.

For some time, doctors feared that long-term use of stimulant laxatives could lead to dependence on these drugs. Additionally, doctors are concerned that these laxatives may damage the intestinal nervous system (intestinal muscle plexus).

However, recent research suggests that long-term use of stimulant laxatives is probably safe. However, the only people who need to take these laxatives for a long time are hospitalized patients or long-term care patients with neurological impairment and an inability to get out of bed.

Examples of over-the-counter stimulant laxatives include:

  • Dulcolax (bisacodyl)
  • Fleet (bisacodyl)
  • Haycat (Senna)
  • Shell
  • ex-weak (sennosides)
  • Beaver oil
  • Aloe

Osmotic laxatives

Osmotic laxatives are soluble, nonabsorbable compounds that attract fecal water to the colon through osmosis. Therefore, osmotic laxatives thin the stool.

Osmotic laxatives are considered effective, but overuse can cause problems with the water and electrolyte balance in your body.

Here are some examples of over-the-counter osmotic laxatives:

  • Milk of Magnesia (Magnesium Hydroxide)
  • Sorbitol
  • MiraLax (polyethylene glycol)

Sodium phosphate osmotic laxatives

Phosphate laxatives are absorbed by the small intestine and have an osmotic effect, softening the stool and facilitating its evacuation. To obtain an osmotic laxative effect, a large dose must be swallowed.

In January 2014, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued a warning about over-the-counter osmotic laxatives based on sodium phosphate. They warned that, on rare occasions, taking more than one dose in 24 hours can seriously damage the kidneys and heart, and even lead to death.

According to the FDA, 'laxatives containing sodium phosphate are marketed under the Fleet brand, as well as generic and brand names. All are potentially associated with serious side effects, such as dehydration and / or abnormal levels of electrolytes in the blood, which can lead to serious complications such as kidney damage and sometimes death.

The FDA recommends talking to your healthcare provider before taking this type of laxative and watching for warning signs of a bad reaction.

Laxatives are best used for short-term relief and you should consult your doctor before using them. Never give your child a laxative without first talking to your pediatrician.

Get the word of drug information

One of the worst things you can do with laxatives is to use them as long-term self-medication for some of the more serious illnesses to mask a problem that needs immediate attention. For example, colon cancer can cause constipation due to a blockage.

Keep in mind that, as with all medicines, it is better to prevent the problem in the first place than to take medicine to treat it.

If you are experiencing constipation, it is recommended that you see your doctor and discuss diet, drinking, exercise, and grooming habits. Lifestyle changes can often help relieve constipation and eliminate the need for laxatives.

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